The Hurt Locker “is the best overall film Kathryn Bigelow has ever made,” says HitFlix’s Drew McWeeny, “and it manages to fit neatly into the voice she’s already established as a filmmaker while hopefully also opening new doors for her as well. It’s basically about three volatile personalities put into some very tight quarters, and [then sent] into life-or-death situations over and over and over. And that’s pretty much it

“And I’m not being dismissive or reductive, either. I think the film works really well precisely because they don’t try to build up some phony narrative arc to hang the whole thing on. The film is very slice-of-life, very observational. And that’s precisely why it plays into Bigelow’s strengths. When you look at Point Break or, more directly, Strange Days, she’s very good at dropping the viewer right into the middle of an action sequence. Experiential action is hard to pull off, and I’m convinced that most of the shaky-cam stuff that gets released is someone’s attempt to do the same thing.

But The Hurt Locker delivers on a level that’s “about more than just handheld camerawork,” he says. “Instead, it’s about hooking the viewer in a way that synchs their pulse to the pulse of the scene, that causes real adrenaline spikes in the audience. Bigelow’s a strong enough filmmaker at this point that she exerts absolute control in sequence after sequence. And she never falls back on the standard devices of tension like a bomb counter-ticking down to zero or the red wire/green wire nonsense.

“These characters are professionals, great at what they do, and the tension comes from the fact that the bomb-makers are also pretty damn good at what they do. Each fresh challenge is a puzzle to be solved, and Jeremy Renner‘s Sgt. James thrives on the idea that he is the one person suited to do the work. And like any junkie, he has to push himself further and further to get the same high as the film progresses, to the point where he’s putting everyone else in harm’s way, and that escalation is what drives the film’s forward momentum.”